Facebook Twitter

TOURISTS, CONVENTIONEERS AVOIDING S.F. IN DROVES

SHARE TOURISTS, CONVENTIONEERS AVOIDING S.F. IN DROVES

Not quite two weeks have passed, and there are few outward signs of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit the Bay area on Oct. 17.

Virtually all of San Francisco's buildings are still standing, just as they were after the 15-second earthquake subsided. Many windows have been replaced. Cracks in streets have been repaired. Debris has been swept up. If someone who spent the last two weeks on a desert island were to show up on Fisherman's Wharf today he'd have no clue that San Francisco had another earthquake. Except one.He'd wonder why nobody's here. Why isn't anyone from out of town buying the sourdough bread? Why are the charter trips to Alcatraz half empty? The earthquake has left San Francisco, and the greater Bay area, largely abandoned by outsiders. Since the quake hit, they've been staying away in droves, contradicting what Rudyard Kipling said about San Francisco, "It has but one drawback - 'tis hard to leave."

About the only tourists who have come since the quake have been Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel. And it's been their industry - the media - that hasn't helped matters any.

"I think what they've (the media) done is tactless and almost immoral," said Louise Vogel, who works for San Francisco Reservations, a hotel booking service.

"We've just had a lot of bad press," she said. "Why don't they show all the places that came through the earthquake fine, all the people that had nothing happen to them? As it's been, people all over the world think San Francisco is in ruins."

How bad is it? Before the quake, every hotel in San Francisco was booked to capacity. With the World Series added to several major conventions - taking advantage of San Francisco's notoriously excellent October weather - it made for a boomtown. Almost all of the city's 30,000 beds had mints on their pillows.

"We didn't have anywhere to send people two weeks ago," said Vogel. "Now, I'd say occupancy is less than 40 percent."

Name a San Francisco hotel. The Mark Hopkins? The St. Francis? The Vintage Court? Anything at all on Nob Hill? They've got rooms. So do all the Motel 6's and TraveLodges.

At the new San Francisco Marriott on Market Street, which opened its doors the day of the earthquake, they're at 50 percent occupancy, and lucky to be there. A Nissan convention was scheduled for this week, during which the Japanese car company was going to show its 1990 models. It canceled.

A water pollution control convention that was to bring in virtually every water pollution control expert in the United States - no small number - was called off. Many other conventions followed suit.

"I'd like to cancel my reservations," has been the slogan of the month. People haven't left their hearts in San Francisco, they've left their reservation deposits.

At the airport, Leon Jenkins sat behind the Avis Rental Car counter staring at a computer screen loaded with cancellations. "I'd say two-thirds of the people who reserved cars haven't showed up," he said. "You want a certain kind of car, we've got it."

The dropoff has seemingly been pretty much across the board. Tourist-oriented industries have been universally hard hit.

"Business has been bad, just plain bad," said a cab driver in front of the San Francisco Marriott Saturday morning. He spoke in broken English, but his message was clear. "Usually, $60 days," he said. "Now, $25, maybe."

Even the panhandlers have felt the jolt.

One of them was sitting across from the park in Union Square Saturday morning, holding a cardboard sign that read "Vietnam veteran, please help!" His tin can was empty.

"Yesterday, for a Friday, seemed like a Sunday," he said. "It was that bad." He was sitting with his back to the I. Magnin building. He motioned toward the store. "I hear it's hurting the businesses bad too."

At her jewelry stand on the other side of the Square, Sherri Ness, who designs what she sells, said "it's been a disaster for us. The earthquake hit and every tourist left. I met two who stayed.

"We've just been standing around here with the aftershocks. Everybody's a nervous wreck in this town. My therapist said the earthquake heightened everyone's existing anxieties. It's not that we're afraid of being killed; it's that anything that might have been bothering us before is now bothering us even more."

Like slow business.

"The outside world has gotten the wrong impression," Ness continued. "My parents in Chicago thought sure I was dead. It was a good thing I could talk to them soon.

"I'd say business is off 50 to 75 percent. But it was 100 percent off the day after, so it's picked up from that. And I'm hoping that what they're saying is true, that after something like this, people want to buy themselves a gift - because they survived. That might help."